Article and photos by Claire Suellentrop
Himalayan pink salt.
Organic pistachio butter.
Fair trade, raw, 75% cacao dark chocolate.
It’s understandable that, from an outsider’s perspective, following a vegan diet can appear expensive—for the gourmand, it totally can be.
But let’s ditch the epicurean grocery list for a second and get back to basics: at its core, a vegan diet is just plants. Plants, guys! There are plenty of those around, and they don’t all cost eight bucks a pound (I’m looking at you, organic dragon fruit imported from who knows where).
It’s surprisingly easy to stick to both a vegan diet and a shoestring budget at the same time—here are four hacks to help you make it work.
1. Make everything you can at home.
Skip the pre-packaged greens, the canned beans and the frozen dinners, and spend a little quality time with your kitchen utensils. Buying whole foods is virtually always cheaper than buying ready-to-eat products. Basic whole grains and protein sources, for example (rice, barley, beans, lentils), rarely drift above the $1.50 mark in dry form, and apart from a soak-and-boil session, prepping them takes almost no effort. The same goes for veggies, which are almost always pricier pre-cut than whole; ten minutes of celery or spinach chopping is bound to save a few bucks over purchasing their already-chopped counterparts.
DIY chopped spices, fruits & veggies - from this peach basil fried rice recipe
2. Don’t overstress about organic.
While voting for organic, non-GMO produce with your dollars is super important, it needn’t be part of every shopping trip. The Environmental Working Group takes the guesswork out of buying organic with its annually published Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. The Dirty Dozen are the fruits and veggies that should be purchased organic whenever possible due to their high levels of pesticide residue; The Clean Fifteen, on the other hand, are safe to eat conventionally, which saves you a few worries and bucks. And hey, they even put together a handy printable cheat sheet of both lists here!
3. Substitution ain’t a sin.
Confession time: I almost never purchase cashews. Nor do I purchase pure maple syrup, quinoa or a whole host of other tasties. Know why? Because as ridiculously delicious as those foods are, they don’t typically fit my budget. However, they do all have cheap relatives that hold up just as well in a huge array of recipes. Sunflower seeds are a godsend for those of us who can’t spare $11 for a box of cashews. Quinoa? Who needs it when barley is half the price for the same quantity? And maple syrup, you’re beautiful, but agave clocks in around $4 compared to your $9.
Substituting kale for fresh basil makes a way cheaper mid-winter pesto.
4. Frozen produce is your friend.
Because they’re flash-frozen as soon as they’re picked, frozen fruits and veggies are as packed with nutrients as their fresh counterparts, but they have the added benefit of lasting way longer—sometimes for less money! They’re especially helpful during the winter months, when nothing but starchy vegetables are in season (so al the imported produce prices are sky-high) and your taste buds are crying for something that isn’t potato-based.
There are countless ways to make your diet both animal- and wallet-friendly. What other tricks do you use?
Claire Suellentrop provides lifehacks that help busy people make healthier food choices on Eat Well. Party Hard. She's won awards for her writing and leadership skills, has mastered the art of living from a suitcase and fuels her weird life with a plant-based diet, black coffee and whiskey. She'd love to hear from you at email@example.com.